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Woody Paige: Denver Broncos will ride the shotgun, 'Pegasus' offense, under Bill Musgrave

June 9, 2018 Updated: June 10, 2018 at 11:15 am
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Denver Broncos quarterback Chad Kelley, left, confers with offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave during drills at an orientation session for the team's rookies Saturday, May 12, 2018, at the Broncos' headquarters in Englewood, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Bill Musgrave has revived, revised and revitalized the Broncos' offense for this season.

The Broncos will be riding the shotgun.

While players and the media at Dove Valley have been hyping the offensive coordinator's "simplified playbook and terminology,'' everybody has, in newspaper parlance, buried the lede.

The shotgun formation - as directed by Peyton Manning before Gary Kubiak, then Vance Joseph emphasized the quarterback-under-center system - has returned to where it belongs and will be predominant in the Musgrave-Case Keenum offense.

What went around has come back around.

Credit and cheers to the old Grand Junction Tigers quarterback. Musgrave will get the Broncos out of that stick-in-the-mud scheme that ranked the team 27th in points and 17th in yards in the awful throes, and throws, of a 5-11 season.

On a concrete walkway outside the Broncos headquarters, in a one-to-one conversation, Musgrave and I discussed his prep football career, when he received the highest honor in Colorado (Gold Helmet Award), and the reasonable prices of housing in The Springs.

I asked the money question: "Are you putting Case under center or in the shotgun?''

His response: "I don't want Case to turn his back on the defense.''

Bingo!

"Given his size (6-foot-2, perhaps in high-tops) and intelligence, and what we're doing different on offense, I want his eyes downfield instead of having him take a 7-yard drop.

Musgrave's statements definitely were indicative that the Broncos will be in the shotgun.

"We can run successfully out of the offense,'' said Musgrave while doing a demonstration. When both Kubiak and Joseph proclaimed, as they took over the coach's job, that the Broncos would be run-centric, the offense didn't flourish. The NFL is a pass-happy league.

And Musgrave has proven - first with the Falcons, and young Matt Ryan, as assistant head coach and, years later, as the offensive coordinator with young Derek Carr - his pass first, and on first, second and third downs, offensive structure is quality-controlled. The 2010 Falcons finished 13-3, and the 2016 Raiders, sixth in scoring and seventh in offensive yardage, won 12 of 15 games before Carr suffered a broken leg.

Both Ryan and Carr worked out of the shotgun a vast majority of their plays.

As did Keenum with the Vikings.

The new offense also already is benefiting Paxton Lynch, who was a full-time shotgun quarterback in college, but seemed like a lost soul in the under-center offense.

In 22 years of NFL coaching, Musgrave has tutored 24 quarterbacks, including Michael Vick, Nick Foles and Donovan McNabb. His principal influences as a player and an assistant were the Bill Walsh West Coast offense in San Francisco and Denver (with Mike Shanahan and Gary Kubiak in both locations) and eventually, the Chip Kelly spread formation in Philadelphia. Musgrave's offensive schemes, fashioned to fit a quarterback rather than force a QB into a specific system, and his abridged terminology (one word on myriad plays, particularly during the hurry-up two-minute offense) derived from his tenures in Atlanta and Philadelphia.

His is an innovative offensive mind. Musgrave will vary his schemes with four- and even five-wide receiver sets - spreading the field as Kelly did with the Eagles - or an elephant backfield or three tight ends. Musgrave, after all, was a quarterback for the Oregon Ducks and set passing records broken by Marcus Mariota. He is inclined to sporadic end-around runs and the receiver bubble screen that was very productive with Manning-to-Demaryius Thomas before disappearing. Musgrave is partial to play-action pass out of the shotgun. In 2016 Carr equally threw 1-10 yards, 11-20 and 21-30 (exactly 150 times each). Carr flung 30-yard-plus passes on 110 plays.

Jack Del Rio foolishly didn't renew Musgrave's contract, and the Raiders' offense declined badly last season. Del Rio was fired.

Mike McCoy, whose playbook was as lengthy and complicated as a Leo Tolstoy novel, was dismissed on Thanksgiving amid the Broncos' eight-game losing streak. Musgrave was given the "interim'' title. A Broncos executive said there was no way Bill could do a makeover in the final five games. All changed after he got the official title. He met with the overhauled offensive staff and revealed his fresh philosophy.

When asked in Oakland by writer Vic Tafur what name he had given the proficient offense, Musgrave said: "No name. Hopefully, just a 'score points' offense.''

The Broncos' offense could become "Pegasus'' under Musgrave and with Keenum in the, viola, shotgun.

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